Discussion of the hearing

Both the Daily News and the Paulick Report live-blogged yesterday’s Congressional hearing, the latter with more detail and panache, for which I was particularly grateful as I was following the hearing during a marathon seven and a half hour faculty meeting. I’ve yet to watch the hearings, but both Dana at Green but Game and Dan from South Baltimore on the Paulick blog provided links—scroll down and go to “recent programs.” And while Paulick’s coverage was more comprehensive than that in the News, I appreciate that the latter provided its own regular updates. One of the things that I like about the paper is that it has not, like so many others, abandoned racing coverage.

The Blood-Horse’s reporting indicates that most witnesses were in favor of federal involvement in racing. Arthur Hancock said that he “‘supports congressional action given the fact racing has failed to mandate changes. It never happened, and it never will unless you mandate it through the Interstate Horseracing Act.’”

While I don’t disagree that racing needs a governing body, and while I don’t disagree that racing has not acted in its own collective best interests, it’s hard for me to see how getting the government involved is going make things that much better. It’s also rather a bad precedent—does the government oversee/set mandates for any other sports?

I’d also move away from the idea of a “czar” or commission to a council of some sort, at which all of the stakeholders in the sport—owners, breeders, jockeys, trainers, executives—have a say. Alex Waldrop, NTRA president, observed that “‘Noticeably absent were all the groups being criticized…We should have had (representatives from about 20 other groups) here today. We got one side of a very complicated but reasonable debate in our industry’” (The Blood-Horse).

Similarly, Railbird wrote yesterday that she was

irked about the oversight after listening to Jess Jackson declare that owners
were “the lifeblood” of the industry (not to knock the importance of owners —
this sport couldn’t go on without them any more than it could go on without
bettors) and then hearing every group but the fans named as stakeholders in the
industry in response to one of the representative’s questions. As the passage of the NY OTB bill this week showed, players pay when they get overlooked.

From a PR rather than a practical standpoint, it makes sense to me that gambling was not a part of yesterday’s conversation, which arose from the outcry following Eight Belles’s breakdown in the Derby—any prudent representative isn’t going to create a link between horse safety and betting, and yesterday’s hearing was an opportunity for committee members to demonstrate publically how very, very much they care about the welfare of horses, not to point out that bettors regularly get screwed. That wouldn’t play nearly as well back home.

Moving forward, though, any conversation about next steps in the sport needs to include all the voices that weren’t there yesterday, and I would encourage the industry to get its act together before the government steps to, ahem, clean things up.

(An aside: writing this with ESPN on in front of me, the crawl tells me that Big Brown’s next race will be the Haskell. That, of course, has been widely reported, but that ESPN counts it worthy enough to put up every couple of minutes with last night’s baseball scores seems good news to me. Wait—will the Haskell be on ESPN or ABC? According to NTRA’s schedule, no.)

I am off this afternoon for my first twilight racing expedition of the summer. Summer hours mean that I’m out at 1:00 on Friday, leaving plenty of time to pick up lunch, fill the cooler, and make it to post time (barring summer traffic, of course). See you at beautiful Belmont Park….

5 thoughts on “Discussion of the hearing

  1. Regarding Federal Regulation of the Industry, you said it best : “it’s hard for me to see how getting the government involved is going make things that much better.” Self regulation has proven to be thus far not very good-but I fear getting Big Government involved.

  2. I have not explained myself well — I wasn’t looking for or expecting any discussion of bettors getting screwed in yesterday’s hearing. What I would have liked, though, was more acknowledgment than Waldrop’s one sentence that equine safety and industry integrity are issues of importance to players. The first panel was asked, “Who are the stakeholders?”, and not one included customers or fans in their answers. Yet we are stakeholders too — we put through $15 billion in handle, which means $3.2 billion to the industry — and moving forward, we can’t be left out of the discussion. That’s what I was trying to say.

  3. What I wouldn’t give to be able to work summer hours on a lazy Friday, pack the cooler and head to Belmont Park for a sunset card. Unfortunately, from New Jersey, that would take two tanks of gas at $4 per gallon and $18 worth of tolls!The price of gas is crazy — it’s threatening my attendance at Saratoga this year and putting a serious crimp in my “disposable” income — a.k.a. wagering money.

  4. What is the Jockey Club and why do I not expect more from them than what we have already heard? It is because they are a BREED REGISTRY. Yes, a breed registry, not much different from the AQHA, the APHA, TWHBEA, ASHA and other breed registries found in the United States. A place where you register your foal, transfer ownership, and conduct similar types of business. What happens when one of those registries wants to make a rule change to their shows or their show division wants to make changes? They send the request to their show division or a completely different organization not affiliated with them to request the change or vise versa for approval. In the thoroughbred industry there is no one organization for the registry to seek such approval but 38 separate state racing commissions that oversee their own states set of rules and regulations with little or no input from the breed registry. The state commissions may look to the Jockey Club for statistics and information maintained in their various databases but as far as their input on how to regulate drugs, breeding practices and safety issues the registry remains silent because they are a registry and it is not their responsibility to provide oversight in these areas. Therefore, what weight does the Jockey Club have when they make these “recommendations” for the states to adopt? None, therefore, what other alternatives does the industry have to force change? Do the other organizations that have held meetings recently to discuss the current situations and problems have the power to take the necessary steps to force states to change their rules? Not really they are like the Jockey Club, they can make recommendations until they are blue in the face. It is going to take more than “recommendations” for each state to relinquish their power and their egos and I do not see them forming an oversight commission on their own. As much as I hate to say it but having the government force an oversight commission may be the only way to achieve our goals without all the lip service and going nowhere.

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